Just light enough to count as an ultra-portable, but with near-desktop performance, a decent display and an optical drive built in.
13.3 in 1,366×768 display, 2.0kg, 2.4GHz Intel Core i3-370M, 4.00GB RAM, 500GB disk, Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
Laptop manufacturers are always looking for ways to reduce weight, and Sony has opted for magnesium alloy for the case of the new Vaio VPC-S13L9E, which keeps it just under 2kg. This puts it in our ultra-portable category, even though the S13L9E includes a powerful Intel Core i3 processor, a 500GB hard disk and – unlike other ultra-portables around this price – an optical drive.
This is one of the cheaper models in the S13 range, which can be ordered with Core i7 processors and SSD storage. The Core i3-370M in the S13L9E is no slouch though, helping the laptop to a score of 83 overall in our benchmarks. This is powerful enough for most applications, and only heavily multi-threaded tasks such as video encoding will reveal its limitations.
There’s no dedicated graphics chip but the Core i3’s integrated Intel HD Graphics processor can decode HD video. It scored 10.6fps in our Call of Duty 4 test, so you’ll struggle to find games that will run, even at low quality settings. Image quality from the 13.3in display is good, although the glossy finish on the screen, coupled with tight vertical viewing angles, means you’ll have to adjust its tilt carefully. Contrast was decent but we found colours were slightly muted.
At 2kg, the S13L9E is just on the cusp of ultra-portable status, and it feels heavier than its size suggests. Its battery lasted six hours and 41 minutes in our light usage test but if you have to carry it around for long periods you’ll notice its weight. The alloy case has a rough finish to it which adds to the impression of toughness and improves grip.
Vaios are one of the few brands that still carry a FireWire port, and the S13L9E also has three USB ports and two memory card readers – one for SD-type cards and one for Sony’s own Memory Stick format. There’s a choice of VGA or HDMI video outputs, and the obligatory headphone and microphone sockets. A small switch toggles wireless on or off, and the optical drive’s eject button is placed on the front corner, where it’s less likely to be pressed accidentally.
The isolated, flat-topped keys have a light, crisp action, and the layout is fairly standard, with a column of page navigation keys to the right of the keyboard. The large Enter and cursor keys are a plus, and we’re glad that Sony still retains the standard Function keys, with an Fn key for accessing shortcuts such as brightness, volume and display choice. The touchpad is a decent size, and its two buttons have a light action and are conveniently placed near the edge of the case.
With a fast processor, decent battery life and a light alloy body, the S13L9E is an excellent portable computer that doesn’t sacrifice an optical drive like many ultra-portables at this price. However, it’s up against the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 11, which is slower but costs much less, and the Toshiba R700, which is significantly lighter. The Sony’s main selling point is its optical drive, but unless you want to watch DVDs on the move, an external one that can be left at home makes more sense. Then again, having it included here saves on the additional cost of an external drive, so it’s hard to fault the Sony on value.
|Processor||Intel Core i3-370M|
|Processor clock speed||2.4GHz|
|Memory slots free||0|
|Sound||Realtek HD Audio|
|Viewable size||13.3 in|
|Graphics Processor||Intel HD Graphics|
|Graphics/video ports||VGA, HDMI|
|Total storage capacity||500GB|
|Optical drive type||DVD+/-RW +/-DL|
Ports and Expansion
|Total Firewire ports||1|
|Wired network ports||1x 10/100/1000|
|Wireless networking support||802.11a/b/g/n|
|PC Card slots||none|
|Supported memory cards||SDHC, Memory Stick Pro Duo|
|Other ports||minijack audio output, minijack microphone input|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Professional 64-bit|
|Operating system restore option||restore partition|
|Software included||Microsoft Office Starter 2010|
|Warranty||one year RTB|